“Tell them I’m coming in to talk,” she said to the young child, “Can you do that?”
They nodded and ran off, leaving Faye to wonder if it had been a boy or a girl.
Once they were out of sight, Faye began to examine the building. This Hall was old, and stone, very unlike the wooden Halls that Faye was used to. She had seen one the fancy chimneys, ones that led heat and smoke through the upper floor and out the roof, but never outside of the cities before. Faye could see the stone of it through the window. That was her way in.
The climb took quite a few hours, and three times she had to stop to rest on the way, but she eventually lay on the roof. Somewhere along the way it had stopped raining. Not that it made much difference. Her clothes were still heavy with water; the rocks were still too wet to get a solid grip. She lay still and soaked, staring at the stone chimney, and trying to catch her breath.
A hazy, misty light was starting to spread as the sun rose behind the clouds.
Faye forced her tired legs into standing. She had climbed up, and now she had to climb down. She walked to the stone of the chimney and touched it, annoyed to find that it was warm. She couldn’t tell if it was because it was cooling from an old fire or heating up because of one newly lit. She didn’t have the time to wait and make sure either. She had wasted that time lying down.
Faye got up on top of the stonework and examined the drop. A twinge of fear ran through her, just enough to make her shiver. Faye froze, unsure of it. Was it because of the uncertain drop into a possible, hot death or something else? How much time had passed since she met the men in the woods. She couldn’t be sure. Faye shook her head. It would do no good thinking about it, not when she didn’t have time to be sure. She caught her arms and resolved to move. She climbed into the chimney.
Soot-laden stone was even harder to grasp than wet stone. If the stonework hadn’t been old and uneven, it would have been impossible for her to grab onto the spaces between them. Faye nearly fell only a few feet from the top and clutched into the wall afterward until her heartbeat slowed and she’d stopped shaking. The fear was growing despite her best efforts.
She was half way down, sweating through her palms and wondering if it was getting any hotter when the fear passed. She paused, before continuing on her way down with more confidence and speed. Soon she could see the large fire pit that was waiting for her. Encased in a ring of stone, it wasn’t attached to the chimney, which began on the roof above it. People stood surrounding it and staring up at her. Many of them had weapons in their hands. Faye risked releasing one hand to wave at them. She looked again at the fire pit. The fire had died, except for a few small patches of flame, but the ash glowed red.
Faye frowned at the fire, remembering something unpleasant. Another wave of fear hit her, this time so sudden and strong that she almost let go of the stone. She slowly made her way down to the bottom of the chimney and hung from her arms. She could still feel heat from the previous fire on her legs. The wound on her arm burned again, but was cemented closed by the little remaining paste, blood and soot. Faye began to swing. She let go and sailed over the hot ash to the edge of the fire pit. Her foot caught on the stone work around it and she fell, but managed to not get to hurt by tumbling. She stood up, brushed off her filthy clothes ( It didn’t really work when her hands were also covered in soot) and faced the people surrounding her.
“Where’s your Rí?” she asked.
“Dead,” said a voice behind her. She turned to see an older man, leaning heavily on a younger man. People stepped aside to allow them to pass easily. The older man had a bloodied bandage wrapped around his head. Faye would guess that the eye behind the wrapping was gone. He took in the sight of her, dirty and exhausted. “Why do you want to know?”
“Did Tadhg do that?” she asked, pointing at his face. The man barked a cruel laugh, making the young man holding him scrunch up his face.
“That little parasite? No, an Aed did this. That little pissant couldn’t beat me when he was a lad, and I’m the only one of us who had learned something since. Now, I’m in a lot of pain so answer my damn questions. Who the hell are you and why do you want our Rí?”
“She’s his new Witch,” said the young man, “I saw her yesterday.”
Faye smirked at him as she lifted up her sleeve and revealed her tattoo. She turned in a circle, letting many of the people around her see it before covering it back up.
“You’re Council?” asked the old man, “You’re the Warden?”
“What? No, I’m a Scout. Why would you think I’m a Warden?”
“Ours died a few weeks ago. We were waiting on a replacement, but yet again it was too damn late. You Council people can’t get anything right.”
“Wardens have nothing to do with Scouts. Complain to someone else.”
“Tadhg is here because of the Council as well,” said the young man, “You lot killed his family.”
Faye raised an eyebrow.
“What?” she asked. The older man banged his head into the younger man’s.
“Ignore him,” the older man said, “Tadhg’s father was here. The fool went looking to make a bargain with an Aed. He deserved to die. The mother ran off and got herself killed by some wolves. The little shit doesn’t like anyone thinking bad about his stupid parents. That’s why he hid in the woods and attacked us after the Aed broke through the wall. Opportunistic little bastard.”
“So,” said Faye, who didn’t really care about the history lesson, “Who was the Rí’s second? Was it you, old man?”
The older man barked a laugh again, causing the younger man to flinch, and nodded at her.
“Good. Then you know where the tunnel out of here is, right?” she asked, “I can help your people get to it.”
“You go. The tunnel is in the next room. I’ll get one of the young ones to show you to it,” he said. Faye’s confusion must have been obvious because he smirked at her and explained. “We’re going to wait here until the Warden and their escort get here. I’m not the only one here who wants to see Tadhg get his ass handed to him by Council men.”
“No,” said Faye, “You are all leaving now.”
“Well it’s either that or burn to death when Tadhg sets this place on fire later. It gets hot enough that tunnel will turn into an oven… but your choice.”
The people in the hall began to all talk at once, some of them sounding high-pitched and hurried, close to panic. Faye felt another wave of fear pass over her. It was not as intense as when she had been hanging over the fire-pit, but it confirmed her suspicions. She ran over what she had done over the last few days and grimaced. Time was running out.
The old man called to his people for silence. He turned back to Faye, his one eye narrowing.
“You sure about that?” he asked., “Our Hall is very old. It cannot be rebuilt.”
“How do we know we can trust you?” asked a pretty, bulky woman with an axe, “We saw you being given to him. We saw you being called his witch.”
“Trust?,” asked Faye, “Who said anything about trust? Do your duty and protect your people, warrior.”
“I plan to,” she said, “Let’s start by not showing you where the tunnel is.”
A quick, sudden anger flared up in Faye. She could feel her face reddening and her muscles quivering and tensing. She bared her teeth while she replied.
“Fine,” she said, “I’ll stay here and stop him burning down your Hall. Just get these people out of here.”
“The warriors will stay,” offered the axe woman.
“No,” said the one-eyed man, “You will all go. I will stay with the Scout.”
There was some protest and complaints at that, but the old man yelled at everyone until he got his way. Faye didn’t mind him staying so much, just as long as he stayed out from under her feet. It shouldn’t be too hard for a man that could barely stand under his own strength.
Faye shouldn’t have offered to stay and protect the Hall. She didn’t owe these people anything. She had other people to protect, other people to find. This was a waste of time she didn’t have. Still, she sat down and watched the townspeople prepare to leave without protest. She would really have to sort out her feelings about Slavers before it got her into real trouble. Or was it because of the anger she could still feel lingering in the background of her thoughts?
Faye hated moments like this. She couldn’t be sure of what was hers, if she was acting as she wanted or if she was being influenced. Faye spat a lot to try and get the soot out of her mouth. She took some milk offered to her by the same child from earlier and gulped it down.
“That’s from Maisy. She’s my cow,” said the child. It was a boy, judging from the voice. He sat down next to her and stared.
“What?” asked Faye.
“Mommy said if I’m bold a Scout will come and take me away,” he said.
Another two children had been passing and stopped to hear her answer.
“She’s a smart mommy,” said Faye.
“Have you ever taken a bold child?” asked another. More children gathered.
“Not yet,” said Faye.
“So what do you do?”
A mother noticed the crowd of children that had gathered and ran over to find out what was happening.
“We’re only asking questions,” said a child that Faye assumed belonged to the woman, “She doesn’t mind.”
Faye raised an eyebrow. The mother turned to her.
“Why did you come here, anyway?” asked the mother. To Faye, it seemed like everyone one in the room stopped what they were doing to listen to her answer.
“I didn’t come here by choice or duty,” said Faye, and everyone seemed to relax a small amount. The mother who had answered her got her another drink of milk. Then she left, taking the older children with her, to help get ready to go.
“Are you strong?” asked a tiny girl.
“Yes,” said Faye, “Are you?”
The little girl flexed her imaginary muscles. Faye smiled.
“Are you magic?” asked another.
“Only sometimes,” said Faye.
“Are you a person?”
“Don’t I look like a person? Idiot.”
The child giggled at being called an idiot. Faye did not understand children. One of the older boys crept back.
“Have you ever killed anyone?” he asked, keeping an eye on his parents to make sure they didn’t see him skipping work.
“What’s the deal with all the questions?” Faye asked.
“Well, have you or not?” asked the boy.
“Only when they don’t stop asking me stupid questions.”
“So how many is that?”
Faye put her head in her hands and groaned. She looked up to see the children getting shooed away by the one-eyed man. He sat down next to her. She groaned again.
“I’m not sticking around to help you,” he told her, “I'm dead and I know it. Dragging a half-dead man will only slow them down. Better to die here, where I was born."
“You’re pretty chatty for someone whose half-dead,” said Faye.